Movie Reviews: Liverpool, Dreamkiller, Brooklyn's Finest, Alice in Wonderland

ALICE IN WONDERLAND One wonders what Walt Disney would've made of his studio's 21st-century, 19-year-old Alice — a tousle-haired 3-D action figure who decapitates a dragon and drinks the creature's blood. Tim Burton's Alice is off-handed in its violence and doggedly on message — a straightforward allegory of female actualization. Alice (Australian actress Mia Wasikowska) returns to Wonderland to escape her engagement to a bilious aristocratic twit, and much of what transpires in that moist, warm realm down there (Wonderland is later called "Underland") demands to be read in feminine terms. Alice may be a babe, but Eros is largely sublimated. Amid the digitally conjured white rabbits, Cheshire cats, and hookah-smoking caterpillars, Alice does encounter a pair of flesh-and-blood males — but Johnny Depp's amusing Mad Hatter is scarcely more eligible than Crispin Glover's creepy Knave of Hearts. In any case, Wonderland is a gynocracy and, rather than romance, Alice is drawn into the sibling rivalry between Helena Bonham Carter's irascible Red Queen and Anne Hathaway's languid White Queen. Burton's Alice, sad to report, is not the least bit lysergic. (Shot normally, the movie was stereofied in post production. The resulting 3-D is shallow and largely superfluous.) Alice is also soberly concerned with itself as a business model. The final battle is clearly designed for gaming; so, too, the protagonist. Back in the U.K., Alice even has a plan that involves expanding her jilted father-in-law's enterprise to China. Walt's corporate heirs must be proud. (J. Hoberman) (Citywide)

BROOKLYN'S FINEST A multiplex three-pack filled with every cop-movie convention since the invention of gunpowder and curse words, Brooklyn's Finest is three movies in one, all of which you've seen before: the sad tale of the sullen burnout a week away from retirement who finds accidental redemption (Richard Gere as Eddie); the tortured tale of the undercover brother named Tango asked to do One Last Big, Bad Thing before he's kicked upstairs and out of the down-low life (Don Cheadle); and the tragic tale of the good-ish cop gone bad (Ethan Hawke as Sal), saddled with a mess o' kids and seeing nothing wrong with pilfering drug dough to finance a new life for his pregnant-again wife. Seen it. Seen it. And seen it. Disappointing, since Brooklyn's Finest is from Antoine Fuqua, who directed Denzel right into an Oscar for Training Day. The script is by a first-timer named Michael C. Martin, who wrote a movie that sounds like every other movie. Which would be forgivable if Fuqua had tweaked it enough to at least acknowledge its antecedents — to at least wink — or had turned this sleepy sucker up to 11. Also: Hawke, who spends a lot of time glowering and sulking, usually while smoking, is, easily, the least Sal-looking character in the history of the movies. (Robert Wilonsky) (Citywide)

DREAMKILLER Making a riveting psychological thriller on a minuscule budget with a no-name cast isn't impossible, but the negligible Dreamkiller all too painfully demonstrates the many hazards associated with such a strategy. Nick (Dario Deak), a hunky, brooding Los Angeles doctor, oversees an ambitious psychotherapy study that seemingly cures patients' phobias through the use of a complex audio frequency. But when the patients start being killed in ways that correspond to their long-held fears — e.g., an acrophobic dies after a high fall — a beautiful detective (Neko Case look-alike Penny Drake) investigates the crimes, unsure if she wants to arrest Nick or just take him to bed. (She's not the only woman inexplicably drawn to him: In the world of Dreamkiller, female characters simply cannot resist his flowing locks and inert personality.) Director and co-writer Catherine Pirotta tries to make this whodunit a steamy, creepy ride, but Dreamkiller's limited creative and monetary assets prove more lethal than the film's mysterious murderer. Bedeviled by distractingly cheap production design, one-note performances so humorless they end up being hilarious, and creaky plotting that's all red herrings and exhausting third-act twists, Dreamkiller wants to show us the dangers of becoming prisoners of our fears. Sadly, the film has no similar insights into how to escape utter boredom. (Tim Grierson) (Beverly Center)

GO  LIVERPOOL Liverpool opens with a big blast of neo surf, and coasts on that energy for the movie's 84 minutes, ending with a shot of corresponding impact. Before his freighter navigates Cape Horn, a merchant sailor named Farrel gets permission to take shore leave, explaining (in the movie's talkiest scene) that he wants to find out if his mother is still alive. Then he packs his duffel, goes ashore, eats in a dive wallpapered with an incongruously verdant landscape, visits a lonely strip club, hitches a ride on a flatbed, jumps off in the middle of nowhere, and crosses a snowy field to a rudimentary settlement, where, after dining in the ultimate no-frills cantina, he spies a house that might once have been his own, gets drunk, and passes out. This not-so-excellent adventure is captured, mainly using available light, mostly in middle shot. The takes are long, and real time is frequent. Argentine director Lisandro Alonso's brand of minimalism is funky, uninflected and given to moments of unexpected beauty. The tone ranges between withholding and enigmatic. Landscape trumps character, although the human heart is the central mystery; the emphasis is on the moment, but formalism rules. Alonso has stylistic affinities with an international group of youngish Festival directors — Albert Serra, Pedro Costa, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Fred Kelemen are the best known — who might be called exponents of New Realism or the New Depressives. Each, though, has his own personal interests. Alonso's involve the riddle of everyday activities and the impossibility of relationships. Before heading back over the snow (to his freighter, to his death?), Farrel gifts the apparently simple-minded girl with some money and a cheap souvenir keychain purchased in a foreign port. In the last (key) shot, she's seen curiously fingering this trinket in the same way you might, after watching Liverpool, ponder the visceral experience that has been lodged in your consciousness like a stone. (J. Hoberman) (Downtown Independent)


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